Traditional Oriental Medicine is unique in that it is not just disease or sickness which is looked at during diagnosis, but also the underlying imbalances within a person’s body which may have contributed to the symptoms in the first place.
Looking, or visual diagnosis, is the first of four main diagnostic methods described in the earliest textbooks. For example, the Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine), written over 2,000 years ago, mentions about observing both the patient’s colour as well as their Shin, or spirit.
This first aspect of visual diagnosis, that of looking at the colour of the patient, is a reference to observing various parts of the body but especially the face – in particular the area around the eyes, forehead, nose, and mouth.
According to the Five Phase theory of Traditional Oriental Medicine, certain colours correspond to particular organ systems:
- Liver – blue/green
- Heart – red
- Spleen-Pancreas – yellow
- Lung – white
- Kidney – black
A predominance of one or more colours, often subtle to the untrained eye, can frequently be associated with a person’s constitutional tendency toward an imbalance in that corresponding organ or acupuncture meridian system. However, it can also be an indication of a more acute or advanced state of disease, for example in extreme cases the yellowish colour of jaundice or the dark, ashen complexion of a late-stage cancer patient.
In children, these underlying colours of skin tone are often more easily noted than in adults and in fact is one of the main diagnostic methods used in a specialized form of pediatric acupuncture known as Shonishin, especially when treating infants and younger children who might otherwise be unable to communicate their symptoms.
A second aspect of visual diagnosis is that of observing the patient’s Shin (sometimes translated as spirit, heart, or mind). This is most commonly done by paying attention to the person’s eyes and face – a certain amount of vitality, aliveness, sparkle, brightness, and strength of life force can be seen in a healthy person.
As a part of visual diagnosis, making note of the general physique, skeletal structure, muscle tone, and skin luster can also provide important information about a person’s overall vitality and health.
All of these visual observations are used, along with the other diagnostic methods of Traditional Oriental Medicine, to help determine patterns of weaknesses and imbalances in a person’s body.
Treatment, whether it is through acupuncture and moxibustion, shiatsu massage, herbal medicine, or other techniques, is then aimed to strengthen and regulate the various organ systems, to correct underlying imbalances, and to help enhance the body’s own healing abilities.